Can we be brutally honest about something?

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After seeing all that’s happened in the past year, we can honestly say this:
Hate seems to be alive and well in our world.

For all the progress we have made as a society in so many areas, hate has not been eradicated. In some ways, it’s still growing – in our culture, in our politics, in our lives, and even in our churches.

And, this is problem. Because, there is almost nothing more antithetical to Christianity than hate.

More and more, in the political process, in conversations, and even across pews, hate is pouring forth. And, it’s no longer enough to simply “call out” hate as wrong – we definitely need to do that – but, we also need to change this reality.

As Christians, we need to be partnering with the Spirit to rid our world of hate. Because, hate is toxic, it is infectious, and it spreads. Hate is insidious on the left and the right, and it is a problem.

So, what do we do? How do we rid our world of hate?

Well, the answer is to love those who hate. But, that is a real challenge. Because, loving hateful people is just plain hard.

Recently, I read something by James A. Baldwin that I believe is both true and helpful. He writes,

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hate so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

I think this is insightful, true, and also helpful.

As Christians, we are called to love others. We are called to make the world a better place. But, in a world of shouting, anger, and hate, it can be hard to love others.

What Baldwin is getting at is that often hate gets attached to pain. And, perhaps that’s where we need to focus. To not just focus in on changing people’s hate, but also on the pain underneath the hate. To hear, listen, care, and, yes, at times even challenge the pain, if necessary.

We need to see others not just as their hate, but rather as a people who might have pain as well.

This has been helpful for me. Because, now when I hear a hate-filled speech, I also hear pain attached to lost jobs, fear-filled futures, and uncertainty and lies. Of course, this pain never excuses the hate, but it does help me to love those who hate.

It also helps me to be part of changing the hate around me, as well as the hate that is within me.

So, I write all this because I think in our world full of sound bytes, talking points, yelling, name calling, and hate-filled speeches, we can find a better way. It begins by healing deep pain, not just seeking to stop hate. Maybe one way to live in this world of hate is to focus on its healing.

Because, hate will truly be stopped when healing happens.

Getting Rid of Your “Spiritual Life” : Otherwise Known as Unifying Your Life

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Today, I want to write about something counter-intuitive: to improve your spiritual life, you need to stop focusing on your spiritual life.

And, here is what I mean by that…

When we talk about our “spiritual life,” we often mean things like serving, reading our Bible, going to church, having a quiet time in the morning and so on. In essence, we have a list of things that are “spiritual” and try to do them more or deeper.

But, if you’ve ever tried this, it honestly doesn’t often work all that well. It might help for a little bit, but often quickly sputters out. And, I think the reason it doesn’t work is because we’ve bought into a lie that there is something called “our spiritual life.”

But, there is no such thing as a “spiritual life” – there is just life!

Because, in the Bible, things aren’t split up into two categories: spiritual and real life. It’s all one. The Bible doesn’t split our lives up into spiritual and non-spiritual, but when we do, we run into problems.

Because here is the thing: your “spiritual life” will never improve while you ignore the rest of your life. God isn’t interested in just your prayer time and Bible reading plans; He’s interested in all of you and your entire life. How you treat your co-workers matters just as much as attending church. The things you purchase matter just as much as your Bible knowledge. Your forgiveness toward those who have hurt you matters just as much as you serving in kid’s ministry.

Are you seeing the point?

If we want to improve our “spiritual life,” we need to improve all of our lives as a whole. We need to not just focus on reading the Bible more, but living it out in each and every moment. Mondays through Saturdays matter just as much as Sundays. We can’t live divided lives and then expect to grow.

Thomas Merton puts it this way, “If you want to have a spiritual life, you must unify your life.”

You can’t have a spiritual life; you can only have a whole life.

Now, of course, reading your Bible, Sundays, church, serving and prayer all matter immensely. But, the rest of our lives matter too. When we miss that fact, we will get stuck.

So, this week, focus not just on your spiritual life, but on living and responding to God in every aspect of your life. When you start to value each aspect of your life, you might find that God is a part of it all, and that all of it is spiritual.

Creating Space for Change

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I think that hospitality is probably the most undervalued, but necessary gifts in the Christian world. Hospitality is to create inviting spaces where people feel safe, welcome and loved. And, there is nothing more needed in our current world than safe places for relationships to be created and cultivated.

Henri Nouwen writes: “Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”

I think this is so true, and that’s what we can be doing in our world – creating safe spaces for conversation and connection; creating loving spaces for relationships and motivation; creating holy spaces for God to do the work of transformation.

So, do want to do something holy, beautiful and life-changing? Why not invite someone over, create a safe place and just see what happens.

How to Change Your Heart

How to Change Your HeartToday, I want to wade into a complex theological topic in about 500 words. Trying to explain desires, disconnect and why we don’t act how we should.
Here is the truth: Many of us want to live differently, but we struggle. We want to be more like Jesus, but find ourselves not living like Him. We want to be holy or righteous (to use more traditional language), but we find ourselves doing things we don’t want to do.
Paul puts it this way, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15) So, it seems like it isn’t just us that struggle with it, but also Paul.
Here is a controversial, but true thing: The solution to this problem isn’t more knowledge or more information. Yet, this is precisely what we gravitate to when we or someone else is struggling. We try to give them more information or we listen to more sermons about “How to Change Our Lives” and decide to “try harder.” And, I’m not saying that information or sermons are bad (clearly it’s my job!), but if deciding to try harder and gaining information led directly to transformation, we would be the most transformed and healthy society with all our information
The truth is, when we encounter a gap between what we know and how we live, the problem isn’t with the knowledge. The problem is with our desires.
Jamie Smith puts it this way, “It seems we can’t think our way to holiness.”
I cannot love this quote more. It’s so simple, yet also so true. We cannot think our way to holiness. We cannot decide our way to righteousness. Because, the disconnect in our actions is not with our intellect, but with our hearts. Because our hearts are following desires that lead us away from Jesus, holiness and righteousness. Because we are not just thinking things, but loving beings or wanting creatures.
So, what does this all mean, practically?
Well, what I think it means is that when we struggle to live differently, the problem often isn’t our moral muscle, resolve or lack of knowledge. The problem is that our hearts have not been attuned to love the way of Jesus over the other competing desires in our world.
When I live less than I should, it’s because I love something more than Jesus.

So, my challenge this week is just this: When you act differently than you know you should, ask Jesus to help you shape and change your wants. Because that’s where transformation resides.

Pray and say, “Jesus, help me to want forgiveness more than revenge.”
Pray and say, “Jesus, help me to want generosity more than financial security.”
Pray and say, “Jesus, help me to want your way of love more than fear.”
Pray for your heart and wants/desires to change.
Because, it’s not just about knowing more, but loving differently.
P.S. To learn more, Jamie Smith’s book You Are What You Love is amazing.

CHANGING THE WORLD, IN A FEW EASY STEPS

changeworldAs you might have noticed, I actually believe that Christianity is meant to have an impact in the world; that we are actually called, as Christians, to partner with God in changing the world. And that sometimes happens by just changing someone’s world.

But, if you are anything like me, this is often inspiring, but difficult to live out. You might say things like, “I’d love to be part of making the world a better place…but how do I do it? Where do I start? What does it look like for regular people?”

If you have ever read any of the stories of the saints, they might inspire you, but also leave you scratching your head for how to begin.

Well, the other day, I ran across this little acronym from Michael Frost about how to practically follow God in making daily impacts. It’s incredibly simple and straightforward. The hard part isn’t in understanding it, but in actually doing it. And, he gives these weekly small ideas for how to begin to make an impact…

B – Bless others. Do something that makes someone’s life better. Focus on blessing three people a week and at least one who doesn’t go to church

E – Eat with three people this week. That could be people in your workplace, friends or neighbours. And try to eat with at least one person who doesn’t go to church as well.

L – Listen. Simply stop and pray and listen for where the Holy Spirit is guiding you. So often the Holy Spirit is speaking, but we aren’t listening. So, slow down and listen.

L – Learn. Spend time reading the Bible with a focus on getting to know Jesus. If you’re not a regular reader, start with the Gospels. Focus in on getting to know Jesus, so you can live like Jesus.

S – Sent. Live realizing you’re sent and look for God active in the lives around you. And when you see it, take note of it.

And, in all honesty, these are pretty straightforward ways to start to change the world. Bless others, eat with others, listen to God’s Spirit, learn about Jesus and look for Jesus in the world. Sometimes the most counter-cultural and impactful decisions are to the simple, yet hard things.

So, if you’re looking to partner with God in changing lives, maybe it begins by inviting a neighbor over to eat; maybe it means cutting a friend’s grass; maybe it means carving some time out to listen to the Spirit; maybe it means reading the Gospels or just looking for God in your day. I know none of these are huge things, but God is often found in the small, regular, daily things.Remember, God isn’t asking us to do giant things, rather He is asking us to do faithful things. And, maybe that means a meal with friends this week. It’s not a bad place to start!

Bad Questions Stop Good Movement

city-life-5-1446453-1599x2404We have a negativity bias in our brains. This simply means we are more wired to review, and remember negative outcomes. We all know this is true, just do a presentation and have 3 people say it was great, and one person trash it and you obsess over the one person.

But what can sometimes happen is that because of this, we are more likely to create an obstacle to movement rather than capitalizing on movement.

I’ll give you an example.

Let’s say you have a new idea, a new proposal, or some great new shift in your industry. This is a good thing, and a needed thing and you bring it to your supervisor, your spouse, or whomever else. You sense some reluctance; you sense some hesitation, you sense things aren’t going well. Then you say the psychologically worst possible thing:  “Well why don’t you think this will work?”

And here is why this is a bad question. It primes people for negative responses. It actually causes people to think of more reasons than they currently have for what is wrong with your idea. It actually starts to gain speed in their brain, and weight for all the reasons your idea is a bad idea, and solidify it before it’s even had a chance to be processed. And once people have staked out an opinion or position it is really hard to shift.

Maybe you’ve seen this happen.

Maybe this has happened to you in a meeting.

Maybe you’re guessing now why your last pitch floundered.

So what’s a better question or way to go?

  • What if this works how would that change things?
  • What are some good reasons this is something to try to figure out?
  • How might this change things positively if it worked?

Push the positive, and let their brains do the rest. It might just help you create some new movement and new initiatives!

Seeds, Growth, and Youth Bands

sand-straw-1392579-1280x960Earlier last summer I spoke at this young adult group. I was invited to speak on whatever I picked, at a church I had never been to before. And so of course I picked talking about Jesus, which if given the chance is what I will always pick.

But this amazing thing happened when I went into the room. I knew a huge number of the young adults. In fact everyone on the leadership team other than one or two people had been a part of my youth group at some point.

And what was so amazing to me was to see them continuing to step up into leadership, and creating and giving God space to move. All these youth were there; many of them whom I’d spent hours and hours with and were now discipling others. It was just beautiful.

Now certainly I don’t get to own their decisions to step forward and lead young adults deeper into a relationship with Jesus. But in some ways God did remind me in that moment that we never know what the seeds we plant in others will grow into. That we can never discount the hours we give and pour into others.

The truth is that as human beings, we have a short horizon for time. We do things and expect results, in weeks and months. Sometimes I think God thinks in decades, or centuries. Some of the seeds planted by me, other youth leaders, parents, and friends are now years later bearing fruit. People are being changed, because people years ago poured into this youth who are now young adults. That’s the beauty of God, community, and investing in others.

For me that night to speak, was a reminder that pouring into others is never wasted. I don’t get to own the results. I also can’t own whether or not someone else gets filled up. What I can own and be responsible for is pouring out my life, and letting God do the rest.

And so while I spoke, hoping that God would use my words, God had already spoken so clearly to me. The moment I walked into the room, it was like God was just reminding me, “investing in others is never wasted”. So while I came to bless them, they blessed me and I think that’s how God works.

The Problem of Evil, Theodicy, and the Power of Story

dark-cloud-1539729-1599x1066The problem of “theodicy” (evil, and cruelty in the world) is a problem that theologians have wrestled with for decades. I read this one line a little while ago and it really resonated with me.

What do you think of it?

We don’t have an argument that solves the problem of the cruel world, but we have a story – Francis Spufford

Jesus Has the Final Word On Everything

1356537_26838575This Sunday we are looking at one of my favorite passages. It’s a passage that reminds us of why we can have hope no matter what we are facing. It’s a passage that grounds our lives in Jesus Christ.

So today for my post I don’t want to give you a lot of thoughts. I’d like to let Scripture speak to you. So the following is Ephesians 1:19-22. Here’s what I’d ask you do.

Slow down.

Read it quietly or aloud.

Read it a few times.

And let God speak to you through it.

We believe that Scripture can reveal God’s word and direction for us. So why not do that with this piece of Scripture.

“I ask God to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, endless energy, boundless strength! All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything.

The beauty is that Scripture is true. Jesus does have the final word on everything, which means anything you are facing is not the end of your story. God has more for you, and he has the final word on everything.

Journeying Together is Healing

1254520_81286112On Sunday we looked at the story of Ruth, and the power of committing to someone’s journey. The book of Ruth begins with Naomi her mother-in-law in a deeply dark place. She moves to a foreign country, and her husband and her two sons die. This leaves her alone in a foreign land, without support, without care, and with two foreign daughters-in-law.

She is hurt, spiteful towards God, and bitterness oozes out from her. She decides to journey back home. She is so bitter that when she arrives home and people say, “Is that Naomi” (which means pleasant in Hebrew)? She responds with, “No, call me Mara now” (which means bitter). So she has gone from being pleasant to bitter. She now totally identifies with loss, bitterness, and hurt as her companions. She says God sent her away full and brought her back empty.

This is the hard place that she is in. Yet in the midst of this difficult, and this Plan B, things change for her. Things change for Naomi because of her daughter-in-law Ruth.

Ruth commits to being with Naomi no matter what. Naomi seeks to push Ruth away, to say she can’t be helped, to say there is nothing that can be done (Ruth 1:11-13). But Ruth refuses to give up on Naomi. She commits to her that she will be with her no matter what. She says “Where you go, I’ll go, where you live I’ll live, your God will be my God. We will be together”.

And it is this commitment to journeying together that begins to change not only Naomi but also Ruth. Through a series of amazing events, God begins to restore to Naomi some of what she has lost. God begins to heal her. And this only happens though because Ruth committed to journeying with Naomi for the long haul.

The story ends with Naomi being happy and full of joy as she cuddles with Ruth’s new baby, her grandson. Her life moves from Plan B back to God’s promises.

From this story we landed on the main idea that we need each other. Not in the clichéd, hallmark, or sentimental way. But in a real – deep life – can’t get through life without one another. I need you, you need me, we need each other.

So we ended with a challenge. That for some of us we need to go be a “Ruth” to someone else. We need to commit to journey with them, to care for them, and to love them like Ruth did. And while we can’t be a Ruth to everyone in need, that is not an excuse not to be there for someone in need. That was our challenge.

We also challenged those of us who are in Naomi’s place to reach out to a “Ruth”. To not refuse the help that a “Ruth” can bring. To not push away that relationship.

Because the truth is the only way we get through life is with one another. This is the beautiful thing about the church ~ Naomi’s and Ruth’s commit to journeying together and both find a new hope in the process.

 

 

Teaching Notes

Big Idea: We need each other; we need to journey together.

Teaching Points:

  • Here’s the truth and this one is thoroughly biblical: throughout life you will face one situation after another that will be completely beyond what you can handle. Pete Wilson
  • We need one another to get through Plan B times.
  • Naomi means “Pleasant” in Hebrew; Mara means “Bitter”.
  • No longer are these emotions that afflict us, they are emotions that define us.
  • Ruth commits to journeying with Naomi.
  • People who are in a deep place of hurt often push away the only people who can help
  • When you are in Plan B, you need community more than ever. Yet because of the pain that comes along with Plan B, it’s easy to miss the God-given gift of community.  Pete Wilson
  • We need one another.
  • “I will go where you go. I will live where you live.”  Ruth
  • Just because you can’t help everyone does not give you an excuse to not help someone
  • We can’t benefit from the power of community until we dare to face who we are.  Pete Wilson

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

Have you ever been like Naomi, so consumed by hurt, that it defines you? How did it happen? How did you move out of it? Have you ever had someone “be a Ruth to you”? What was that like? How did they commit to journeying with you? Why do you think it’s hard to be a “Ruth” to someone? Why do you think it’s hard to allow others to be a “Ruth” to us? Who is God calling you to jouney with? Is God asking you to allow someone to journey with you?

Discussion Question for Families:

Talk to your kids about the importance of caring for one another. Talk to them about how Ruth helped Naomi by being there for her. Ask your kids if there is anyone they know that needs someone to be there for them. Ask them about ideas for helping them, and then use their ideas.

Challenge for the Week: Be a Ruth to Someone; Invite a Ruth to Journey with You